Rails To Trails: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia
by Barbara A. Noe (The Globe Pequot Press)
© 2000 Barbara A. Noe/The Globe Pequot Press. All Rights Reserved.
Our Boy Scout Troop combined this trail with the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. We traveled to Mckeesport, PA from Va and rode some that first day. Liked the GAP much better than the C&O. We camped along the way and rode a total of 320 miles. Ended up in Wash DC on the 9th and then drove back to Va. We had boys as young as 12 make the whole thing. We also took some side trips such as touring "Falling Water", the C&O mueseum, Fort Frederick, Harpers Ferry and stayed at several state parks along the way. The towns along the GAP were awesome and very supportive of trail bikers. On the C&O, Hancock, MD desrves much praise for there support. Very biker friendly! The trail surface of the GAP was like an interstate compared to the C&O. If it rains on the C&O, prepare to get muddy which we really did between Paw Paw, WV and Hancock, MD. A great ride no matter how you do it. If you liked the C&O, check out the G.A.P.
A friend and I did the entire trail from Cumberland to Washington plus excursions to the surrounding towns over a four day period. We rented a car with a ($25) drop off charge, leaving the car at a local gas station, open until 9pm. We did this trip on two fold up bikes which I think held up pretty well. The trail is almost entirely gravel or dirt so although flat it isn't an easy glide. Again, not terrible, and we saw plenty of leisurely peddlers out there, but not a glide.
If you have any interest in history, this is a fascinating trail. You get a bit of Revolutionary War, Civil War, and early american transportation history. I would recommend a couple side trips: Antietam and Sharpsburg, Edwards Ferry over and back ($1 ea. way for bikes) to Leesburg, and Harpers Ferry. We stayed in b&bs for two nights and camped two nights. Camp grounds are found about every 5-10 miles along the canal and there is enough room for anywhere between 5-15 tents but I would not worry about it too much. We never saw many people on the trail until we got closer to Washington. We arrived at Indian Flats just north of the Dickerson Power Station to find a boy scout troupe had basically taken over the camp ground. A few hundred yards down the trail it wasn't hard to find some great, though I suppose illegal areas to camp. We were still close enough to the camp ground to take advantage of the water supply.
The one criticism I would have for this trail is that it can be pretty monotonous if you are not someone who appreciates subtle changes in an ecosystem. There are thousands of wetland plants and animals to look for on this trail. If you don't know what you are looking for you will ride by them and it will feel like one long ride through the woods. The canal has turned into a continuous wetlands green way for plants and animals. It was very encouraging.
Our trip was done in three segments, with each day spent in a hotel enroute. The trail was in pretty good shape, with only one tree fall giving us any pause, which ironically was in the last day, closest to Washington. We rode from Cumberland to Hancock, Hancock to Harper's Ferry, and Harper's Ferry to DC. If you go to Harper's Ferry, you will have to walk your bike up four flights of stairs and across a pedestrian bridge. Harper's Ferry is very hilly!
The trail itself is harder than you would think, given the surface. I rode a Mountain Bike, and my partner and I suffered no flats. I wouldn't want to have ridden my road bike. It is all crushed stone and dirt, with a small portion of a concrete amalgamate.
The amenities are really primitive at best. There is an outhouse and a pump every five miles as promised. The visitor centers are off trail, and have to be found as they are not marked on the map. The DC visitor center is under construction and is located in a trailer off the path in Georgetown. It was closed on Monday July 3 when we arrived at 1:00 pm.
Prepare by packing the list included in the Trails.com guide. You really don't need a flashlight for the Paw Paw tunnel if you get there in daylight, so you may want to save the extra weight. Bugs are everywhere, so bring repellant. But do travel light, and leave the kitchen sink at home.
The trail is open all the way through from Great Falls to DC, with the detor between miles 12 and 14 eliminated. There is still a detour of about four miles between miles 88 and 84.
All in all, I had a great experience, and would do it again.
Treaveled Friday night and stayed in a hostel in Paw Paw, WV ...very close to the tunnel! Three of us were dropped in Cumberland on Saturday morning and began riding. Equipped w/ daypacks filled with clothes/water/food we headed down the trail on our mountain bikes (hybrid tires made traveling easier). We had beautiful fall color, the Potaomac on our right, and a full day of riding ahead of us. We started at 7;30 am. Hour long shifts of riding with 15-20 minute breaks between shifts. The mile markers kept flying by and we became lost in the seemingly endless tunnels of trees and color. We pushed hard all day averaging 15mph and reached our hotel in Shepherdstown just before nightfall. A whopping 120 miles! Barely had the strength to stumble downstairs to the bar for food and many drinks. Day two was easier, being only 80 miles. Once again 15 mph pace and continued scenic splendor. The canal is an inspiring creation of human will. We rolled into Georgetown on Sunday elated that we''d just completed the entire thing in only two days! The pace was a little fast and it did not leave much time for exploration; but the experience will last a lifetime. I recommend this trail to riders of all skill levels.
Sign in/up to upload photos.
Keep Me Informed
Weekly newsletters, announcements and offers from Trails.com to your inbox.
We HATE spam and promise to keep your email addresses safe and secure.